DR. HOOK- Wellness: How a little visit can save your life

Oil changes used to be recommended every 7,000 miles when I first started driving. Now it is every 3,000 miles! I HATE getting my oil changed because it is like shopping at a warehouse: you go in to buy milk and end up leaving with a pool table in addition. "Oh, you can get the lousy cheap oil we advertise OR you can get the expensive high quality oil that will allow your car to get more miles per gallon. AND your air filter, windshield wipers, spark plugs, Freon, and gloves in the glove compartment all need to be changed." That makes your $29 oil change into $290." Wah!

 So are medical annual wellness visits the same way?

 Some patients are terrified to see the doctor because their fear is worse than if their spark plugs don't work. No one who is feeling perfectly well wants to come out of a routine physical to be told they need a stress test, a brain MRI, and 100 medicines.

 The problem with health is that sometimes ignorance is not bliss. Like with the car, the last thing you want is to be stranded on a deserted, rainy, dark highway when you could have prevented the malfunction. The body is the same way. 

 Cardiovascular disease remains the #1 cause of death in American adults. High blood pressure is like having a melanoma on your back: you don't know until someone checks it out for you. Hypertension is responsible for 24% premature deaths, 35% of heart attacks and strokes, and 49% congestive heart failure cases. High cholesterol is also something most folks don't know they have unless the doctor checks it for them...like me! I wouldn't know I had both high blood pressure and high cholesterol if it weren't for my annual wellness visits. And I am Señor Diet & Exercise.

 Speaking of diet and exercise, most Americans have lost their gauge on what is obese. "Nah, I'm just cushioned, like the couch I sit on every free moment I have!" A BMI >30 and inactivity are associated with "all cause mortality," all of which can be decreased with exercise and losing weight. 

 The C word: we all dread it. Cancer of the lung, breast, prostate, and rectum-colon are the main causes of cancer deaths. Screening for cancer can save lives by early detection, though of course there is no guarantee (in particular prostate cancer). Look at PAP smears. It has reduced cervical cancer deaths tremendously.

 Some of my patients think I'm weird for asking them if they wear their seat belt or drive while impaired. I'm not being nosey like the ladies who play Bridge. I'm trying to reduce the risk of injuries. You don't have to pull over Zsa Zsa Gabor to get hurt. Domestic violence, fires, and loaded guns all can hurt you. Also, as we get older, falls occur more and have much more devastating results.

 Sex sells! It also can kill you with HIV, or cause major health problems. Chlamydia can cause calamity in a woman's pelvis. 

 Alcohol abuse can turn that peaceful Corona beach commercial into Hurricane Katrina. It is associated with MVAs, suicide, violence, high blood pressure, and mental disorders. 

 Depression is also something that many suffer with but that doesn't bring a person to see the doctor. 

 Tobacco is as good for the body as Round-Up is for grass. Sure, every one has their vices, but avoiding tobacco can significantly reduce the risk of morbidity and death.

 Do I think annual wellness visits are worthwhile? Yes. Sure, every thing has its pitfalls, but the annual wellness visit gives the doctor and patient the opportunity to go over some important things. A gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.